The Bamboo Leader

Whether you are in a position of leadership or lead from your position, being the bamboo is critical to your ability to influence and effectively lead your team, your organization and your life.

Why? Here is what we know about bamboo and what that has to do with leadership:

Bamboo is fast growing. Are you? Are you growing your self-understanding and understanding of others and the world around you or are you convinced of your rightness and that you have nothing new to learn?

Bamboo is versatile. It can be used to make clothing, flooring, scaffolding, as food and it has medicinal purposes. How versatile are you? Do you pop into different situations and deploy your skills and abilities equally well? Do you speak to different audiences (staff, peers, superiors) and craft your message for their frame of reference–what matters to them?

Bamboo is hollow inside. Are you open to new information? Are you open to new points of view? Or are you so filled with your own thoughts and ideas that you have no room for others?

Are you open-hearted? The center of the bamboo is considered its heart.

Bamboo is firmly rooted, yet flexible and yields to the wind. How flexible are you? Do you shift your response with agility to differing circumstances to get the best result? OR do you react habitually rather than respond to the context?

Are you able weather the storm? OR are you rigid and unyielding? Do you break easily?

Are you firmly rooted? Are you able to stay grounded, solid and directed? Or do you get excited by the new and blown off course like a tumbleweed?

Do you continually change course and direction? Are you scattered and unfocused? Do you get excited by beginnings and lack follow-through?

Bamboo is used to create boundaries. How intact are your own boundaries? Do people walk all over you? Do you invite people in when you know they’ll do harm? Do you invite feedback or accept feedback when you know that it comes from someone who has a specific agenda with you? Do you say “yes” and “no” and mean both? Do you over extend to the point of exhaustion? Do you feel used?

Or are your boundaries so rigid that you are unwilling to let people into your life and you don’t let others get to know you?

Bamboo is resilient.  It is resistant to most bacteria. It’s a real survivor. How resilient are you? When you fail at something or something doesn’t go your way, do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward? Do you learn from past failures and disappointments?

Bamboo replicates quickly. Do you share your wisdom, knowledge, experience and information so that others can grow and benefit? Or do you guard what you know out of fear that others will leapfrog you, use the information and become more successful than you? Or do you guard what you know out of fear that …?

A Vietnamese proverb says: “When the bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear” Wikipedia

Do you plan for your succession and build a strong team even if those team members may outshine you? How quickly do you replicate your own brilliance so that others may shine?

How can you be a Bamboo Leader? Here is just one important example:

Seek to understand before being understood.

Listen to someone who appears to have a differing viewpoint, really listen. Sit on your verbal hands. Become curious about how this person sees the world and how they arrived at their point of view.


Listen in at the same time you listen out.

Notice when you find yourself disagreeing, when you want to interrupt to make a counter point, when you are saying to yourself, “What an idiot, that’s ridiculous …”  Gently let those voices go. Return to the part of you that is curious and intent on understanding the other.

Be a generous listener.  The bamboo leader doesn’t have to take another’s point of view as their own, but she can bend toward the other. Generous listening can yield to a generative conversation. Imagine what could result!

This type of listening demonstrates confidence, openness, flexibility, humility and caring. It is also a sign of respect.

This type of listening builds a bridge toward the other. You can still be firmly rooted and not lose yourself. But you may find yourself changed by listening.

I am afraid to listen, because if I listen, I might understand and be changed by that understanding. - Carl Rogers

Yes, you just might be influenced to change, modify or amplify your point of view. If you are afraid of that, perhaps you are not as certain as you’d like to believe you are about your position? Perhaps you are attached to being right and to holding onto unexamined, but longstanding beliefs?

Bamboo is a great metaphor for leadership. Remember to take time for your own growth and development, to be versatile, to be firmly rooted yet yielding, to be resilient, to manage your boundaries, to be open-hearted and open to learn, and to help others grow and shine.

To learn more about how you can build your own bamboo leadership, contact today.